Ford Ranger FX4 MAX: Tested
For adventurous travellers, the mode of transport they use needs to fulfil a multitude of tasks. From spending week days on family duties, to being loaded up with gear for that paddle session, family camping, long-weekend climbing/paddling/hiking/MTB road trip with mates, or the Big Trip around Oz. It is as a solution to this multiple duty scenario that today’s modern 4WD dual-cab utes have found a massive niche in the Australian car market, to the point where the top two best-selling motor vehicles in Australia are 4WD dual-cabs. With their ability to carry heavy loads, robust build quality and go-anywhere capability, they’re an ideal match for outdoor lovers. One of the latest examples of this vehicle type is the Ford Ranger FX4 MAX.
The Ford Ranger FX4 MAX is a new model in the extensive Ford Ranger line-up that goes from the basic tradie models through to the desert-track-storming Ranger Raptor, with its supple, desert-racing focused suspension system. The FX4 MAX sits above the most popular Ranger model – the XLT – and the second-from-top Wildtrak variant, with its more luxurious bent (the Raptor is the top-spec Ranger).
The FX4 MAX offers a little bit of the Raptor’s sublime off-road performance, as it uses similar monotube Fox shocks to those in the Raptor but misses out on the wider track and coil-based rear suspension. The FX4 MAX has raised suspension and beefier, tougher all-terrain 32-inch tyres (more on this later). It combines this with leaf-springs at the rear (with a staggered shock arrangement for better load management) for a 981kg payload and towing figure of 3500kg, to meet the demands of serious off-road tourers who, literally, often bring the kitchen sink along with everything else on their around-Oz adventurers. This is, however, also good news for outdoor enthusiasts; a Raptor-esque off-road ride (read: more supple/comfortable over bumpy/rougher terrain), combined with the ability to load the FX4 MAX with pretty much ALL the gear you wish to take with you, makes it an appealing compromise.
The FX4 MAX is powered by a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel engine, backed by a 10-speed automatic transmission, and includes a dual-range transfer case for 4WD duties. As mentioned earlier, the FX4 MAX suspension setup (developed and tuned here in Australia) is unique in the Ranger line-up. It offers 20mm more height than standard and combines with the beefier (and taller; by 11mm) BFGoodrich All-terrain KO2 tyres (wrapped around 17×8.0-inch alloy wheels, with a 42mm positive offset) to provide a total lift in ground clearance of 31mm over the standard Ranger. Overall ground clearance is 256mm and, when combined with those long-travel coil springs at the front and re-tuned rear leaf springs, it makes relatively easy work of gnarly terrain. Wading depth is 800mm but be aware that the air intake on the 2.0-litre engine is facing forward just above the front grille. For anyone looking at destinations that involve a few water crossings, we’d recommend fitment of a snorkel, for that additional assurance.
The interior of any Ranger is a nice place to spend time driving long distances; switchgear is close to hand, the SYNC3 infotainment system is straightforward to use (it includes Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, as well as GPS), and there are a few USB ports dotted around the cabin (as well as 12V ones and a 240AC outlet). The seats in the FX4 MAX are all manually-operated (a bit odd in this price bracket), but easy to use. One negative: there are no aircon vents for second row occupants.
There are numerous safety features, including AEB with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keep Assist, a reverse camera, front/rear parking sensors, tyre pressure management, auto headlights and plenty more. The FX4 MAX has a five year, unlimited kilometre warranty, with 12-month (15,000km – whichever is first) service intervals. Options include a Tech Pack (Semi-Auto Active Park Assist and Adaptive Cruise Control are included), Prestige Paint and a decal set (as seen here).
In the field
The loan of the FX4 MAX coincided with a planned weekend away in Deua National Park, in southern NSW. This national park’s steep, rugged tracks – and a few water-crossings – were a great test of how this vehicle works when used as intended. The rear tub easily held all our gear for the trip but, if we owned this vehicle ourselves, we’d fit a canopy for additional storage space, and protection of gear. The FX4 MAX includes a ute-bed liner as standard, which was appreciated when loading as there were no fears of scratching the paint underneath when dragging gear around. The four tie-down points are not in ideal positions (halfway up the ute tray sides on each corner; ideally, you want tie-down points at the base of the tray for easier securing of gear). There is also a 12V power outlet in the tray.
The road trip south, down the Princes Highway to Deua National Park, was a doddle. The ride comfort was very good for a dual-cab ute, while that 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine rumbled along quietly (the engine is quiet from the inside and the expected hum from those chunky tyres didn’t eventuate), drawing on its ample low-down torque to ascend steep hills and maintain a suitable cruising speed. Speaking of those tyres, they were well in their element once we entered the dirt tracks of the national park, offering ample and reliable traction throughout.
The only bugbear when driving off-road is the 10-speed auto’s reticence to stay in a particular gear before lurching into the higher ratio; it got to the stage you were bracing yourself in anticipation. Still, even this slight annoyance didn’t affect overall off-road performance. The FX4 MAX includes hill descent control but we found little need of it even on the long descents thanks to the engine braking.
Combined fuel consumption is claimed at 7.0 litres/100km but, as with any manufacturer’s ‘official’ figures, you’ll struggle to get near that in general touring conditions. The 80-litre tank is okay but, if you have remote touring intentions, we’d be looking at fitment of a long-range tank. Or you could make the most of that impressive payload capacity and just pack a few extra jerry cans in the rear tray.
The final word on the Ford Ranger FX4 MAX
For those looking for that ideal ‘adventure vehicle’ the Ford Ranger FX4 MAX offers a credible case at a reasonable (for its market segment) price. The differences compared to the ‘regular’ Ranger models (excluding the Raptor) are all positives; additional ground clearance; improved ride comfort on bumpy roads and tracks. You could always buy a lower-spec Ranger and add aftermarket suspension and tyres but that’d cost close to the asking price of the FX4 MAX, and this model offers the advantage of all of that covered by a full factory warranty.
The Ranger FX4 MAX is one of the few vehicles that you could drive straight off the showroom floor and out into the wild. If it was us, personally, we’d only pause on the way from said showroom to fit a canopy, snorkel and dual-battery system, then pack the family and all our gear before disappearing into the outback.
RRP: $68,990 See Ford Australia for full model specifications.